Re: [ACAT] The future of cataloging data and the future of the library catalog (WAS: [ACAT] 1xx qualifications)

Posting to Autocat
reply to

These are all interesting points you make about cataloging data, but you don’t mention the public at all. This is precisely the same fault I find with RDA and FRBR. Our catalogs are of minimal use to the public now–that is clear by the number of people who prefer other tools for discovery. My stance is that if people use the catalog less, they will use the collections less, and if they use the collections less, they will use the libraries less, except for wi-fi access while they have a cup of coffee and a brioche, or as a quiet study hall of some sort.

I believe that if we could create a tool using our cataloging data that people would actually use, everything else would fit into place. The directors would then like it and their superiors would like it, because the public liked it, and its future would be secured. The question would then turn into: we have a tool that people want, now how can we make that tool more efficiently and make it even more effective? This is why I keep saying that we have to look at the catalog (not the individual catalog records but the catalog as a whole) through the eyes of the public who understands nothing–nothing at all–and who will not sit still for a half-hour tutorial, much less for a semester-long “information literacy” program that they will forget five minutes after they are through with it.

These are a few of the realities, and until the cataloging community accepts them, the public will see little change. And this means the directors will see little change, and so on. The changes with RDA will make it more complex for users because it will split the catalog in all kinds of ways, far more than with AACR2. The public will see different things in similar records and the searches will become more complex. These are simple facts that many want to ignore, but it will have consequences. As I wrote in my last podcast, to surmount these complexities the public will have to be trained, and they do not want training. Training the public will be someone else’s problem, but it is more important to introduce the theoretical improvements. I guess we conclude that if the project fails, it will be the fault of the trainers. Certainly, the theories cannot be faulted.

We should care much more about success than about theory. Some appear to be enamored by the theory of RDA and FRBR. Not me. I have read about and seen too many “beautiful theories” go down in flames. Ptolemy’s theory of the universe was quite beautiful and gave hope to people who saw God (or the gods) in the heavens. Also, theories are beautiful depending on who you happen to be. Communism was a “beautiful theory” to many. Ayn Rand’s theories are beautiful today for a lot of people. I remember a German woman I worked with who survived WWII, and she opened up to me once, saying how “beautiful of a dream Hitler had”. She was sincere. We have seen the consequences of financial people applying their “beautiful theories” of the markets into the real world. (I guess I’m straying perilously close to political statements, so I’ll stop at this point!)

I am much more of a practical man and prefer to concentrate on the practical consequences we can predict when applying these theories to the real world. RDA and FRBR will have consequences we can predict. If we ignore them, someone will still have to deal with them somewhere, sooner or later. What happens then?

How can our cataloging data contribute to “the world as it is”? I believe there are lots and lots of ways, but we must look at it in a non-dogmatic fashion.

I am not saying you do, Frank, but as a profession we must ask some honest, open questions.